This is the 11th article in a summer series on what travel has to teach us about life.
I may not be the sharpest pencil in the case, but I know I am not the dullest. And when I was about six, I may have been a bit naive about how the world was, but I was not naive about my world. And when you are six, your world consists of a few things that you know are true–no matter how dense adults may think you to be.
When I was six, one thing I was an expert on, was Sesame Street. I knew all the characters, like most six year olds did, and had skits that were my absolute faves–you know the ones that would make you howl until your belly ached. But what I was to find out, was that TV did not transfer well to real life. Adults would like for you to believe that it did, but they often were wrong, and abysmally so.
Around this time, we took a family trip to Kennywood Park, near Pittsburgh. For a six year old, this was an amazing trip–bigger than life rides, food that your mother would never let you eat at home, and all the sights and sounds that etch themselves deep in your memory. Everything was going well, until one moment occured that has forever tainted my view of amusement park life, and altered everything I believed about what I knew as truth.
My cousins and I were set to go on the Log Jammer–the water ride that Kennywood is famous for–when I saw them. With all silence and big arm movement, into our field of view came Ernie, Bert, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster. But they were NOT my trusted Sesame Street friends! I, as a six year old knew three things:
These characters, with the exception of Big Bird, were not bigger than the adults on the show, They didn’t walk around in eerie silence–genuflecting wildly, and Cookie Monsters eyes were NOT soulless or a fixed in place! By Jove, Cookie Monster had googly eyes–eyes that moved! There was only one explanation for this situation in my six year old brain. They were IMPOSTERS!
Just as I came to my conclusion about the freak show posse before me, somehow I realized that Cookie Monster had his weird eyes fixed on me! All I could see were arms waving, a blob of mangy blue fur, and a maniacal rocking back and forth in my direction. So I did the only thing that a freaked out six year old could do in a situation like this–RUN!!!!
I don’t know where I went, but I zigged and I zagged! I bobbed and I weaved and hid until I could rejoin my cousins and exhale a sigh of relief on the top of the Log Jammer. I had a unique vantage point just before the boat went over the water mountain and into the pond below where we would be soaked. They had fixed their sights on some other unsuspecting children. I was safe for now. But I definitely kept looking over my shoulder for the rest of the trip.
That summer day in 1977 forever changed my perception of those things. I knew that I liked the characters I had come to know and love on Sesame Street. Amusement park imposters had no place in my world. There was something in my character that placed the highest value on genuine interactions, and I am as sure of that today as I was all those years ago.